Preparing for Competitive Speech
Most parents would love for their children to become effective speakers! This would be an important goal when we consider how Scripture calls us to speak out for the cause of Christ. Minnesota Homeschool Speech and Debate (MNHS&D) believes in that goal and desires to be supportive to parents and students alike. Because of the times in which we live, we particularly need to raise up the next generation of young people to stand firmly for the freedoms and issues that we face now and in the years to come! One area of opportunity to hone those skills is in the competitive realm. A specific question we hear frequently is, “How do I prepare my children for competitive speech and debate?” Good question! I’d like to address this issue based on my experience and study.
Who may participate in Competitive Speech?
Home educated students age 12 and up by January 1 of the current school year may participate in qualifying speech competitions.
Where does a family begin?
One of the first areas to consider is the type of speech a child is interested in presenting. What are their interests? Are they up on current events? Do they enjoy writing? Do they need a lot of time to plan ahead? Are they comfortable speaking without much preparation? Do they love reading good literature? Do they naturally enjoy making people laugh? Are they often referred to by others as dramatic? Do they have a love for Scripture? Answering these questions may help in deciding which type of speech may be good to begin with. Be careful not to fit your child into a box, however. With time and experience, many will take an interest in several of these areas.
Research the categories
Various events are offered each year from these main categories: Platform speeches, Interpretive speaking events, and Limited Preparation speeches. After you and your child have decided what category they’d most enjoy, it’s time to begin looking at material.
Choosing material to present is a very important part of speaking. It is wise to choose material that “fits” the speaker. For a platform speech, consider topics that the student already knows about, something that they have experienced, or would like to experience so they can do some research. If the topic isn’t significant to them, they may quickly lose interest.
After a topic has been chosen, begin a thorough study of it. Check out books and websites regarding the topic for a platform speech. Talk with people who have experience in that area. Get a genuine feel for the subject. I highly suggest using 3” x 5” cards for note taking and following an outline form in the actual writing process. Determine a thesis statement and work around it. Watch transitions between paragraphs so that the final speech flows well. Then go back and write your introduction which should start with a hook (an engaging opening that grabs the audience’s attention) and give us a reason to listen. Creatively include your thesis statement so the audience clearly understands your topic. Leave writing your conclusion to the end, then essentially repeat the main points of your speech and give additional remarks bringing it to a nice/impressive close.
When an interpretive speech is the choice, again, decide on a selection the student is already familiar with. I advise my students to choose something they know they will enjoy. Perhaps it is a story that has been special to them for years. It may be that they can relate to a particular character. Maybe there’s a portion that always makes them laugh. It may be an emotional scene that makes them think or respond. Whatever portion of literature is chosen, it should give us something to hang on to. There may be a moral or lesson to learn. Ask the question, “What am I giving my audience?” It may be the gift of laughter with good humor or a life changing thought. We may gain insight into the author’s reason for writing the piece. We might even learn something about ourselves. Whatever it is, be sure the student understands the purpose of the piece.
When choosing an interpretive piece, skill level should be considered. If the student is new to speech, select a piece that doesn’t include too many characters; something they can easily understand and will enjoy giving to others. Later, as they progress in their skill level, something a little more difficult will keep challenging them and produce more mature speeches.
A more challenging piece will typically include several characters and should be at least at a high school reading level. Look for developed characters that you can do something with. Each character will need to be clearly defined by way of voice, gestures, stance, and body movement. A good character study will help determine how this should play out.
Limited preparation speeches
Interpretive speeches are a good way to begin competitive speech, but a limited preparation speech will truly challenge a student. The extemporaneous, apologetics, and impromptu speech doesn’t begin at competition, but comes from knowledge gained ahead of time. Mark Twain stated, “It takes me about three weeks to write an impromptu speech!” Each of these speeches requires practice and consideration beforehand. Because of the very limited prep time, knowing several good short stories or examples greatly helps. Strategic planning is the key. Being able to form an outline quickly helps use the prep time wisely. Studying and knowing Scripture, reading quality books on the topics, and writing out the apologetics questions is obviously an important part of apologetic speaking. Being up to date with current events and maintaining a collection of current national and international articles is necessary for the extemporaneous speaker. In other words, having a wealth of information in our minds and hearts all contribute to a well-planned speech.
No matter what type of speech is being presented, consider the element of word bouquets. Word bouquets are good descriptive words that give life and interest to a piece. They help us “see” what is going on and “feel” a part of what is being said. They keep our attention as we become involved in the speaker’s words.
Then practice, practice, practice…
Practicing before a variety of audiences helps the speaker to be ready to perform. Try your speech out on grandparents, neighbors, family gatherings, church friends or anyone who’s willing to listen. Then appreciate their suggestions and feedback. Practice wearing the clothing and shoes that you’ll be wearing to the competition. That way they won’t feel funny or odd. There’s a huge difference between speaking with jeans and tennis shoes and dress clothes.
All this preparation builds up to the big day! I suggest eating right, getting good rest, and putting in a lot of practice time before that day arrives. Have your presentation clothing ready to go so that you look and feel sharp. It should be conservative and professional. Stay away from patterns and bright colors. The audience’s focus should be on your eyes, face, and voice rather than what you’re wearing! Shoes should be broken in and comfortable. Take some water to keep your throat and mouth wet. Pack in some safety pins and whatever is necessary to keep your hair back and out of your eyes. Be sure you’ve got a tie clasp if wearing a tie. Plan ahead so you’re confident and ready to compete when the big day arrives. Add your smile and pleasant personality. Encourage others and display godly character toward those you’re competing against. Remember that you are a winner when you’ve done your best for God’s glory, not the glory of men. And finally, go prepared and prePRAYERed.
“I served as a judge for the MN State Homeschool Speech and Debate tournament. I [found] it very well-managed by parents and highly respected by a group of first-rate, talented, dedicated young people to whom we look for future leadership. As a former judge of public school speech tournaments, this event rivaled them in every category. What struck me was the discipline and hard work revealed through the high quality of presentations by the students. Involvement in speech and debate is an indicator of future commitment to serve in our communities and our churches, so I appreciated every effort put forth by the parents and teachers whose expectations of the children pushed them to excel in communication at the highest standards of achievement. Besides serving in the state legislature, I am a retired public high school English teacher who set high standards for my students when they demonstrated understanding of the skills of communication, and I rank the home school speech students as well-prepared as my top students. The home-schooled students have learned well and demonstrated that in the state tournament.” (Minnesota State Representative Sondra Erickson)
“Minnesota Homeschool Speech and Debate has been life changing in our family. We have been [involved] for three years. My middle daughter’s goal in starting speech was to glorify God in her work and words. The first year she did a Dramatic Interpretation about a concentration camp survivor. Later we had the opportunity to hear that survivor speak. My daughter was asked to share her speech with the survivor and others. It was a memory of a life time, and she is so thankful for God’s grace and opportunity to use her gift! My oldest daughter had never competed or spoken publicly, but she took what she had learned from her sister, judged at tournaments, and delivered the Student Address at her graduation. My third daughter started last year, found out how much there is to learn, and how much she enjoys it. This has been a journey that has brought focus, discipline, and determination not only to their character, but also their academics, and their walks with the Lord. As parents, we look forward to judging tournaments, and encouraging students in sharing their gifts and growing in their skills. We praise God for this opportunity, and for all the teachers and helpers who have guided us in this life skill. Share this gift with your children, and watch the Lord work through them.” (Homeschool Mom and speech encourager, Renee Skeate)